Today's going to be a big one - all the way from Dingboche to Namche Bazaar, a distance that's normally covered in two days. And that's on top of a big day yesterday - the 15 kilometre hike from Island Peak Base Camp to Dingboche. Still, there's no choice and, after all, it is downhill all the way. Well, except for the hill up to Tengboche, which we then have to go down the other side to cross the river before going up again to the trail that ridges around the mountains to Namche Bazaar. We're all in high spirits as we set off. It's rather cold but after an hour or so, we're stripping off layers as the sun reaches the valley. The hill up to Tengboche slows us down - god! You'd think we'd be fit and strong by now, wouldn't you but no, put one little hill in our way and we're huffing and puffing our way up it!
After a refreshing cup of hot lemon, we all go to visit the monastery. I leave some rupees and a butterscotch sweet as offerings on the alter. Then we have some lunch before taking to the trail once more. The descent is a steep and twisting one and it seems to take forever to get down to Phunki Tenga. We've dropped about 300m and now have to regain them before reaching Namche. By the time we reach the outskirts of Kyangjuma, I'm really flagging. Those big climbs and descents have really made my leg hurt. Sherpa Phuri takes my pack, and together with Nick, who's also buggered, we make our slow, limping way to Namche. David is the only one behind us. He's accompanied by Pasang and Tengi. Clouds roll up the valley, alternately obscuring and revealing the mountains. We stop and take lots of photos along the way. At one point, a pair of pheasants almost take Nick's head off as they fly out of the shrubbery on the hillside above us and shoot across the trail and down the slope! Mist begins to close in around us and it's nearly 5pm and we're getting concerned it's going to get dark before we reach Namche when suddenly, we're there! Never was there a more welcome sight than that of Namche spread out around its amphitheatre below us. We stumbled down the trail and into town to our lodge. Of course, we had to go up a set of stairs to get to the dining room, but finally we arrived to cheers of welcome from the rest of the group. In truth, I'm only interested in seeing Smithy and finally spot her sitting in the middle of the group. I squeeze in beside her for a very welcome reunion. I'm so glad we're back together, but disappointed to hear that she is no better and that her cough is as bad as ever. Despite that, there's a party mood in the air. The group is complete again and we're almost finished the trip - it's time for a drink!
Our original itinerary gave us tow days to get from Namche to Lukla, but then we had to give up a day so we could camp overnight after going over Cho La, so were looking at having to put in several big days - Dingboche to Namche and Namche to Lukla. Now, because the summit bid was abandoned, we had an extra day back and everyone wanted to spend it in Namche rather than take two days to get to Lukla. Everyone that is, except Smithy and me. Smithy felt she should take the two days rather than push herself and Pasang thought I should go with her, given the condition of my leg, and I agreed wholeheartedly.
So, once again, next morning we left the group to their shopping, showers and emailing, and set off with Sherpas Phuri and Tengi to Phakding. It took ages to get down the Namche hill because of all the traffic coming the other way! Lots and lots of yak trains and porters all heading to the market at Namche. At the lodge at Phakding, the only other trekkers there were 3 Australian blokes on their way to climb Island Peak! So we were able to regale them with our adventures over dinner. The next morning we began our last day of trekking. Smithy was really struggling now and had to walk really slowly. I was feeling really good and strong, so just bounced along the trail ahead, stopping to let Smithy catch up, feed her sweets, give her pep talks before bouncing off again. There was one final steep hill before Lukla and I left Smithy to do it in her own time. At the top of the hill is a gateway into Lukla and I sat there to wait for Smithy, chatting to other trekkers as I did. Finally, Smithy arrived and we hugged, high-5ed and cheered "Finished!" We then walked through town to our lodge which was next to the airstrip. Smithy crashed out in our room and I sat in the garden with a British couple we met in Monjo and kept encountering on the trail. Soon after 1pm, the rest of the group arrived - they must have flown down the trail, doing in 5 hours what had taken Smithy and I eight hours over two days!
That night, we had a party for the porters where tips and gifts were distributed to all 17 porters and 5 sherpas. A final game of 500 was played before we all toddled off to bed. We would be up bright and early next morning for our flight out to Kathmandu. That wind at Island Base Camp had brought heavy cloud cover lower down and flights had been cancelled 3 days in a row. There had been a huge backlog of people trying to leave Lukla. Luckily, flights recommenced the day we walked into Lukla and Pasang was confident we would get a flight out. It dure didn't look likely next morning. Mist blanketed the town and the end of the airstip disappeared into cloud. Three times a plane taxied out onto the airstrip only to return to the apron. Then, still with lots of mist around, no end of the airstrip in sight and surrounding hills hidden in cloud, it took off!
My guess is that the pilots know the drill like the back of their hands. 1-2-3 take off 4-5-6 climb 7-8-9 turn right 10-11-12 climb some more 12-14-15 left around the mountain.....
Our projected take off time slipped past and there were a few long faces beginning to appear. Now that the trip was almost over, we just wanted to get to Kathmandu. Then, finally the siren signalling incoming flights sounded and we were off to the departures terminal. A quick pat-down from security, a brief wait for our plane then we were all trotting out to the apron, passing the debarking passengers on the way, and piling on to the little plane for the 40 minute flight to Kathmandu.
Our Very Big Adventure was almost over. We had a day and a half in Kathmandu during which we did very little apart from lazing around in our hotel room, luxuriating in the joys of on demand showers, ensuite toilets, cricket on the telly and sleepingbagless beds!
We arrived home 2pm on 29 November, having not slept since 8am the previous day, hardly believing it was all over and already dreaming about our next trip.